The unraveling of President Obama, captured on live television and watched by some 70 million Americans, brings to mind a tale of a proud and pretentious emperor whose only care in life was to dress in elegant clothes. In case you’ve forgotten, two tailors appear with the most extraordinary cloth, invisible to anyone too stupid or incompetent to see. The emperor’s minions all pretend they can see it, so he does, too. When he parades across the kingdom in his new suit, the masses also pretend they see it. But a little boy blurts out, “The emperor is naked.”
And the last line of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale is: “The emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He thought it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn’t see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.”
Thus stood Barack Obama at the podium in last week’s debate, feeble, disoriented, withdrawn, petulant, peripheral — and naked. He had come in as the smartest man ever to hold the American presidency, at least according to his water-carrying press corps. He left the stage a man pummeled by a more-prepared — and more articulate — challenger, made a marble-mouthed fool without his precious teleprompters, and with even his most ardent defenders admitting the emperor is naked.
From the very outset of the Denver debate, the president looked like a student who hadn’t prepared for the test — you remember the drill, where you don’t know the answer to the question, so you rephrase the question, talk around it, cite some superfluous statistics to make it seem like you’re answering the question, spout some canned lines and platitudes in the hopes that your teacher will be dazzled into thinking you actually said something.
“Four years ago, we went through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of jobs were lost, the auto industry was on the brink of collapse. The financial system had frozen up,” Mr. Obama said in his opening. How many more times can the man who has been president for four years take us back to 2008? And this was his open!
He followed with: “I think we’ve got to invest in education and training. I think it’s important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America.” Are those really the solutions to finding jobs for 23 million unemployed and underemployed Americans? And haven’t they been tried for the last four years to no avail?
After Mr. Romney laid out his specific five-point plan — “a different path, not the one we’ve been on” — Mr. Lehrer followed up, asking the president to “respond directly” to the challenger. “Well, let me talk specifically about what I think we need to do. First, we’ve got to improve our education system. … So now I want to hire another 100,000 new math and science teachers,” he said, reprising his 2008 campaign.
And on and on it went. The Republican had an answer for every lie Mr. Obama spouted. To the president’s charge that Mr. Romney wants a “trickle-down” economy, the challenger shot back that Mr. Obama wants a “trickle-down government.” When Mr. Obama alleged that Mr. Romney would slash education funds, he shot back: “Mr. President, you’re entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts. I’m not going to cut education funding.” When Mr. Obama lied that his opponent plans a $5 trillion tax cut — with most going to the very wealthy — Mr. Romney didn’t look to the moderator for help, he simply shot it all down himself. “‘I’d like to clear up the record and go through it piece by piece. First of all, I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut.”
In a shocking post-debate interview, illustrating that even top Obama officials are clueless without a teleprompter, deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter accidentally spoke the truth. Reminded that Mr. Romney plans to close hundreds or thousands of loopholes as part of his tax-cut plan, a CNN host said the cost “won’t be anywhere near $5 trillion.” “Well with — OK stipulated, it won’t be near $5 trillion,” Miss Cutter said.
Perhaps most telling was what happened after the debate: Miss Cutter immediately blamed a 78-year-old man — Jim Lehrer, a journalist for 50 years moderating his 12th president debate (the liberal left preaches tolerance above all things, unless you dare to disagree or cross the mighty emperor). Other Chicago thugs blamed mock-debate foe Sen. John Kerry, saying he was no match for the brilliant mind of the president, who grew so bored during the prep work that he took the afternoon off to sightsee at the Hoover Dam.
More, the president took two days — and two teleprompters — to think of cogent responses to all Mr. Romney had said on that Denver stage (like an insulted dullard coming up with a witty rejoinder — 48 hours later). “Gov. Romney plans to let Wall Street run wild again, but he’s going to bring down the hammer on Sesame Street.” Zing! “So for all you moms and kids out there, don’t worry — somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird.” Double zing!
After months and months of misdirection, distortion, distraction, Mr. Obama was exposed on the debate stage as an emperor with no clothes. He’s left speechless when forced to run on his pathetic record of the last four years — his economic policy has been proved a disaster and, in a later debate, so will his foreign policy. He has no vision for the future, no plan that differs from what he pledged four years ago (hiring 100,000 teachers just won’t cut it). And he has no ammunition left on which to falsely attack Mr. Romney; Americans have taken a measure of the man and find him suitable for office (which is why Team Obama tried so hard to get its hands on 20-years-worth of its opponent).
Yet things are about to get ugly. Like a cornered dog, the president has only one option — strike out, attack. Forget the “hope and change” of 2008, 2012 will be “slash and burn,” blame whoever you can. On Wednesday, Americans got their first view of their two options on Election Day: One, a man with a plan — and not the failed plan of the past four years — the other, an emperor with no clothes who thinks it “better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn’t see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent.”
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.